“I’ve always wanted to help someone have a better quality of life than they may have had before,” Iman Grace says. “More than that, I wanted that help to be tangible, to see the real results and impact I was making on patients’ lives.”
That desire to improve the lives of others manifested at an early age as Iman grew up in Brownsville, Tenn., about an hour northeast of Memphis.
“My family works in health care — my mom on the administrative side and my uncle as a psychiatrist,” Iman says. “So I knew that I wanted to follow in their footsteps, I just didn’t know in what realm. Of course my uncle wanted me to be a doctor. I took the clinical route initially as a dentistry major at Austin Peay State University.”
Iman realized quickly that dentistry wasn’t the right fit. (“I didn’t want to work in people’s mouths for the rest of my life,” she says with a laugh.) She instead earned her undergraduate degree in health and human performance with a concentration in health care management from Austin Peay. Iman then enrolled at the University of Memphis and received her master’s degree in health care administration.
“Both my mother and uncle influenced my decision to pursue an administrative career,” Iman says.
“My uncle had his own practice in Clarksville, and while in college, I worked there as a receptionist. Hearing how our practice was transforming lives solidified my pursuit if the administrative side.”
Finding her footing in provider quality
After graduating, Iman remained in Memphis, working in practice operations for an organization there. In that role she was in constant communication with BlueCross representatives and was always impressed by how they were able to get her what she needed.
A few years later, she was ready for a change — and found what she was looking for at BlueCross, joining the company in February 2020 as a provider quality consultant.
“I meet with providers throughout West Tennessee to discuss the quality report cards they’re issued from the State of Tennessee,” Iman says. “Depending on the type of practice, providers have specific quality measures they’re encouraged to meet, like well-child visits, controlling blood pressure, eye exams for patients with diabetes, and antidepressant medication management, to name a few.”
Iman’s job is to review these scorecards and reporting with providers and see how she can help them achieve their goals to better serve BlueCross members.
“These measures emphasize the importance of annual well visits, vaccinations, and routine health screenings,” Iman says. “We encourage our members to increase interaction with their primary care provider in order to foster more preventive care efforts and detection of any future illness members may encounter during their health journey.”
While the face-to-face aspect of the role excited her, Iman came up against an immediate, unforeseen challenge: COVID-19.
“I’ve had an experience that not many people can say they had, as the pandemic wasn’t necessarily on everyone’s minds during my orientation,” she says. “That switch flipped quickly. Within my first month at BlueCross, I had transitioned to being at home full-time.”
Provider quality consultants typically have a heavy travel load, spending roughly 60% of their time on the road and meeting with providers in their offices. Iman found her expectations upended — but she and her colleagues rolled with the changes.
“In a normal world, it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to have a practice meeting at 9 a.m. in Memphis and then go to Jackson for a provider meeting in the afternoon,” Iman says.
“But we quickly realized there wasn’t a safe way at that point to visit the practices. I definitely had to get into a groove with virtual meetings. It was a double challenge for me, as it was difficult to not only be a new face for these providers, but to be the new person virtually and adjust to those early technology growing pains.”
When quality assessment yields real results
Iman’s also thankful for the knowledge that her team’s work truly makes a difference in the lives of our members. One such instance involved a pre-pandemic outreach event that followed a series of BlueCare Plus quality meetings.
“There was one member who normally wouldn’t have come but did since BlueCare was providing incentives,” Iman recalls hearing. “When that member was assessed, she actually had to be transferred to a hospital. She wouldn’t have gotten that care or even known she was so ill had she not come to that event. We helped avoid a potentially life-threatening situation down the line.”
“Our purpose is to ensure members are coming in to get the care they need. If things get a stressful or I’m having trouble connecting with a provider, I remind myself of that story and why I do what I do.”
A Fast Track to leadership
Despite a topsy-turvy first year at BlueCross, Iman began 2021 by embarking on a new challenge — one that would not only help develop her skills as a leader but allow her to better serve BlueCross providers and ultimately our members in West Tennessee.
Through a nomination from her manager, Iman was connected to Leadership Memphis, an organization that fosters citywide awareness and development through its graduates, or “community change agents.” In late January, Iman began their Fast Track program and spent two months learning about how education, arts and culture, unconscious bias, transit and other factors have all shaped the Greater Memphis area.
For Iman one of the biggest takeaways was the encouragement to find something she’s passionate about in Memphis, then do the work. Not surprisingly, for her that’s looking at health disparities in the communities and finding ways to help Memphians get access to the care they need.
“It challenged me to find different ways to give back to Memphis, whether through the work we’re doing at BlueCross or through volunteering on my own,” Iman says. “For example, I’ve been involved with an organization called Setting the Standard Enterprise, mentoring college students on career development and interview prep. But Leadership Memphis opened my mind to finding even more organizations and community service opportunities where I can plant roots and do more work for the betterment of all Memphians.”
Always hope on the horizon
The past two years have involved both rapid recalibration and growth opportunities for Iman. Through it all, her family and her faith have helped her stay focused on serving our providers and members.
“A week after I came home, my husband Willie came home, so we’ve been makeshift co-workers for the past year and a half,” Iman says. “We bought our first home this summer, but we were in a one-bedroom apartment, so our working from home initially involved sitting on opposite ends of the couch.”
Even at home, quality comes first for Iman. During the pandemic, she also took up baking, trying new recipes every month, from pies to muffins to cakes. Her biggest success? A sweet potato pie that Willie approved.
“He likes it almost as much as the one his grandmother makes,” Iman says. “She’s really the standard bearer. But mine was good enough that he was upset with me for not making him one sooner. I told him I couldn’t risk him not liking it!”
She’s also excited about the opportunity to start seeing her providers in person on a somewhat regular basis, even though that remains on hold for now.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever be fully back on the road, at least not in the way I expected when I joined BlueCross,” Iman says. “But I’ll continue to do everything I can to work with, and provide resources for, our providers and ultimately the members we all serve, whether that’s by their side in their offices or on the other side of a screen.”